Dubbed “the best monster truck show in the state,” the Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam Summer Heat Tour roars into town later this month at the Ocala Speedway with all the car-crushing thrills and spine-tingling spills any diehard fan could hope for, and the biggest star of the monster truck world, “Grave Digger,” will be front and center for all the action. This bone-rattling mammoth of a machine is known the world over for its unmistakable body and design, not to mention the death-defying tricks performed by its fearless drivers.
So what exactly does it feel like to jump Grave Digger? How do the drivers even practice? Ocala Style got the inside scoop from renowned driver Paul “Pablo” Huffaker, who will be behind the wheel of Grave Digger in Ocala, as well as the man who created the monster, Dennis Anderson.
Pablo, how exactly does one become a monster truck driver?
I used to own a four-wheel-drive shop in Houston, Texas. I built a monster truck to promote the shop. After a few months of running the truck, I sold the shop, and this is all I’ve done since then. It’s been 29 years. I was pretty much at the start of the monster truck phenomenon. There were only one or two other monster trucks in the country at that time.
And today there are nine Grave Diggers performing across the country. Where are you and your truck based out of?
Just outside of Houston, Texas. Most of the trucks are based out of North Carolina.
How does the truck you built back in the early ‘80s stack up against the Grave Digger you drive today?
There’s no comparison. These monster trucks are purpose-built in every aspect—from the two chassis to the driveline underneath them, the wheels that we use, the body, the fiberglass. Twenty-nine years ago, we had steel bodies on the trucks. At times, we tried to improvise and use other style chassis and military surplus parts and put together a hodge-podge of parts to create monster trucks.
Almost like Frankenstein’s monster.
Kind of! We tried to use what was available. We adapted. Today when we build a monster truck, all the components are made and intended for use on monster trucks.
What qualities make for a good monster truck driver?
Obviously, it takes good driving skills, but it also requires that you be an entertainer. Our job first and foremost is to entertain the crowd.
So there’s a bit more to it than massive jumps?
Yes. Your interaction with your fans, your ability to talk on the microphone—there are a lot more aspects to being a good driver today than just driving the truck. Actually, there are a lot of good drivers out there, so to stand apart, it comes down to the interviews and interacting with the crowd.
Are you a car fanatic?
Not really. I like what I do, but I am not obsessed with trucks and automobiles. If I had to have an obsession, it would probably be fabrication and design. That is the other aspect of what I do for a living. I supply a large portion of the monster truck industry with the machines and fabricate the components that you would find on all of the monster trucks that are on the circuit today.
So you like the nuts and bolts of the industry, which is good considering how much abuse these trucks take during a show.
We’re breaking parts every weekend. It’s a constant maintenance battle to keep the trucks prepared and ready to go for the next week. It involves both a lot of new parts and making repairs.
How do you practice?
We don’t practice. Well, I don’t. Performing at shows is my practice. I don’t run a truck unless it’s at an event.
How did you become a Grave Digger driver?
In 1993, I did a business deal with Dennis Anderson, the originator of Grave Digger, to put a Grave Digger body on one of my chassis. It started out as 10 shows, and it’s turned into 19 years.
Do you make a good living driving Grave Digger?
It would be a hard living if all a person did was race monster trucks. That’s why I have another business. It’s a very expensive sport, too.
How many shows do you do a year?
I do approximately 25 weekends, and on any given weekend, it could be one to four shows. I probably perform at 60-plus events per year.
Tell me about the notoriety and prestige of Grave Digger.
The Grave Digger truck is, by all means, the icon of monster trucks. Many years ago when people thought of monster trucks, they thought of Big Foot. Today, Grave Digger has surpassed anything that Big Foot ever was. That is a very neat position to be in, but it is our fans that have made us so popular.
It’s family entertainment, too.
Very much so. We get everyone from 3-year-old children to 80-year-old seniors who are equally as enthusiastic about the monster truck. In Ocala, we’ll be racing and jumping and doing freestyle.
What does it feel like to drive Grave Digger?
It’s pretty hard to explain. It’s unlike any other vehicle that you’d typically drive, short of possibly an ATV. The best description of what it’s like to jump is it’s similar to going off of the highest point on a roller coaster and that feeling that you get as you loop up over the top and your sense of weightlessness for a second. Then, all of a sudden, you’ve got a positive G-force on you. You get a lot of different sensations being in a monster truck.
Are you ever scared?
I’m never scared because I’ve been doing it for so long and I have full confidence in our equipment and our safety equipment, the integrity of our roll cages. Fear’s not something that I have.
What does your family think of your line of work?
My wife is actively involved in our business. My son, who’s 29, also drives one of the trucks for me on occasion. My grandson is obsessed with monster trucks, so for us, it’s a family affair. We’re all very active in the business.
What do you drive besides Grave Digger? You know, to get groceries.
I have a four-wheel drive Chevrolet pickup.
So would you say you’re an aggressive driver out on the road?
Probably so. [laughs] I get more speeding tickets than I should. I’m an impatient driver because I’m used to running over whatever’s in front of me!
The vital stats on Grave Digger, courtesy of creator Dennis Anderson
Birth: 1981 in Chesapeake, Virginia, near the North Carolina border
Weight: 10,000 pounds
Height: 10 feet
Width: 12 feet
Engine Size: 542 cubic inches
Body: Replica of 1950 Chevy panel truck
Chassis: Custom-built tube chassis
Tires: 66 inches tall, 43 inches wide
Tire Weight: 750 pounds
Tire Price: $2,500
Max Speed: Approx. 80mph
Max Jump Height: 43 feet*
Price Tag: $250,000**
*Top height Anderson has jumped without crashing
**Hold off on writing that check just yet. Anderson won’t be selling Grave Digger anytime soon. “The only thing we have for sale is our 635 Grave Digger items,” he says. “T-shirts, posters, toys, beach chairs—but not the truck!”
Catch All The Action!
Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam Summer Heat Tour
April 15-17, Ocala Speedway, 9050 NW Gainesville Rd
Friday: Gates open at 6:30pm, and show starts at 7:30pm. Tickets are $15.
Saturday: Gates open at 1pm for matinee show, and show starts at 2pm. Matinee tickets are $12. Gates open at 6:30pm for evening show, and show starts at 7:30pm. Evening tickets are $15.
Sunday: Gates open at 1pm, and show starts at 2pm. Tickets are $12.
Get tickets at the Ocala Speedway or RCC Western Stores, or through Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000 or ticketmaster.com.
Save $3 off Advance Tickets to select shows with a coupon available at area Advance Auto Parts stores (valid for all shows except the Sat. 7:30pm show).
Get a free matinee show ticket with a Buy 3 Get 1 Ticket FREE Voucher available at area Metro PCS locations.
Get on the track, meet the drivers, and see the trucks up-close at the Party In The Pits before the Saturday 2pm show with a free Pit Pass available at area Southern Ford Dealers.